Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Back to Pooh Corner

Authorized sequel alert: "Return to the Hundred Acre Wood" by David Benedictus hits bookstores next week. The 10 new stories are supposed to "complement" A.A. Milne's classic books about a boy and his bear, but the news has me feeling like a little black rain cloud. Goodness knows it's not like we aren't used to Pooh and friends being turned into everything from bed sheets to a theme park ride -- and frankly, I've paid money for both -- but I'm still a little sad.

These "official" sequels of much-loved children's classics tend to be for copyright reasons: If the characters enter the public domain, the estate is suddenly out their lucrative cash bear. In cases of a charity, as with the Greater Ormond Street Hospital, to whom J.M. Barrie bequeathed the copyright to "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens," the decision goes down a little easier. It also helps that they chose a Whitbread-winning author, Geraldine McCaughrean, who had a serious understanding of how to put a sentence together. (I'd link to my review of "Peter Pan in Scarlet," but the Monitor's archives appear to have eaten it.) Also, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson had already accustomed everybody to the idea of a plethora of Pans, with their "Peter and the Starcatchers" series. So, the good news is that the authorized sequel can be done in a tasteful way, if not in a glorious one.

But, while I may sound like Eeyore at a birthday party, I'm not sensible about Pooh Bear and feel very protective of Milne's words and his lovely, bittersweet ending to "The House at Pooh Corner." It's not fair to David Benedictus, who may have written a charming book, but my gut reaction is warn readers, "Eek! Don't go in there!" And then I remind myself that the Hundred Acre Wood is hardly the site of a lame horror sequel, and I should check out the book before getting too outraged.

But at base, it feels like a decision of very little brain -- and very little heart -- and a whole lot of cash. And tonight, I'm reading the kiddo the original.